- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

At her debut as first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama wore a yellow-gold sheath dress and matching overcoat designed by Hispanic designer Isabel Toledo.

The Washington Times previously reported that Mrs. Obama will use her status as the nation’s first black first lady to expose lesser-known, minority designers to consumers infatuated with every dress and accessory she dons.

In Milan, fashion designer Roberto Cavalli compared Mrs. Obama to Jacqueline Kennedy, describing the first lady’s outfit for the inauguration as “extremely chic and practical, as the Americans teach us to be.”

But in a studied mix of high and low couture, Mrs. Obama paired her dress ensemble and green Jimmy Choo pumps with green gloves by J. Crew.The Obama girls, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, also wore vibrant candy-color coats purchased at the popular prep-chic retailer.

President Obama, the ostensible center of the day’s events, was dressed in conventional man-clothes - a black overcoat with a U.S. flag lapel pin, a dark suit, white shirt and red tie.

Dress designer Miss Toledo is a Cuban-American who was the creative director for Anne Klein before starting her own line.

Last fall, Miss Toledo was awarded the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, her alma mater.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Miss Toledo called the day “not just my moment and hers, but it’s the world’s.”

“There is nothing that comes close to this moment. … It’s not only what she’s wearing. It’s what the moment represents,” she said, adding that while she designed the wool lace, silk and wool-lined outfit for Mrs. Obama, she didn’t know until Tuesday that it would be her Inauguration Day dress, along with a matching cardigan.

Mrs. Obama has worn Toledo designs before. Last summer, she made a stylish entrance in a Toledo pantsuit for a Manhattan fundraiser hosted by fashion editors.

Fashion insiders are delighted that Miss Toledo’s designs are being exposed on the world stage.

“I love Isabel Toledo, and I find her largely overlooked in the fashion world despite her talent,” said Treena Lombardo, fashion market editor for W Magazine.

Fashion entrepreneur Cynthia O’Connor said she is “sure the larger boutiques and major department stores will be making appointments to see [Miss Toledo] in February for fall market. She is a talented designer and has been around for many years, but not well known by the consumer. The stores are likely to buy her because she now has a name that will be recognized by millions around the world.”

Mrs. Obama’s staff has long pointed out that the new first lady will strongly favor American designers, especially given the feeble economy and weakened retail sales.

On Tuesday evening, Mrs. Obama highlighted the work of another minority American designer. For the traditional night of ball-hopping among 10 official galas, she wore a dress designed by Jason Wu, an ivory-colored chiffon gown with beads and puffy appliques.

The gown also had a small train, and Mrs. Obama accented the one-shoulder design and sparkle by wearing low-hanging earrings. Per custom, Mrs. Obama will donate the gown to the Smithsonian Institution.

cStringer John Phillips contributed to this article from Rome.

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